Though at least 130 miles and 80 years of history separate golden-age Hollywood from modern-day National City, Cafe La Maze bridges the gap. During the 1940s, this steakhouse served as a playground for movie stars headed to Tijuana, Mexico. Here, they could tuck in to prime rib and lobster on the lower level, or gamble the night away with card sharks such as the Marx Brothers and eponymous restaurateur Marcel Lamaze in a hidden room upstairs.
Today, diners soak up auras of these legends in the same tufted booths where Bing Crosby and Clark Gable most likely lingered at the eatery's grand opening. Candles, chandeliers, and a golden ceiling cast a warm glow across tables as groups savor shrimp cocktails and slice into juicy cuts of top sirloin, new york strip, and filet mignon. Some evenings live music scores meals, and on karaoke nights guests can harmonize with friends as the portraits that line the damask-print walls try to remember the words. Those seeking a more low-key gathering can book the banquet room, which teems with enough red-vinyl seats for up to 70 close friends or cardboard cutouts of their likenesses.
Nico's Steak & Chop House is an upscale steakhouse owned by retired NFL pro Robert “Griff” Griffith and his wife Amethyst. Huddle inside cozy booths to sneak a peak at the new Griffs Smokehouse menu and kick off consumption with small plates of Korean short-ribs ($9) and hand-breaded calamari ($9). Sandwich earls can majestically munch on a turkey club ($10), while more adventurous carnivores can try the 12 oz. New York strip steak ($27) and herb-crusted lamb loin ($28). Feed fish-or-feather urges with the pan-roasted salmon ($26) or the Cajun chicken breast ($19), or try the roasted eggplant burger ($12) to send a message to potential vegetable uprisings. "Griff" Griffith is often around the restaurant to sign autographs and call audibles on orders—bring a pen and a Refrigerator Perry-esque appetite and tackle the satisfyingly smoky fare of Nico's Steak & Chop House.
Once the home of Wyatt Earp's gambling hall and saloon, Georges on Fifth also holds the distinction of being the most photographed building in the Gaslamp Quarter. Today, the venue casts off the sounds of tinny pianos for the aromas of Zagat-rated dishes, each painstakingly crafted by executive chef Jose Kelley. The flavors of certified Angus beef, Snake River Farms Kobe beef, and USDA Prime cuts heighten beneath port-wine and Jack Daniel's demi-glaces, and fresh, flaky seafood in the form of scallops, halibut, and salmon don equally delicate notes from herb-infused oils. With Chef Kelley's wine list made up of more than 50 West Coast and international varietals, diners can find a pleasing accompaniment to any dish.
Inside the celebrated eatery, romantic lighting emanates from ornate chandeliers and dances on exposed brick walls, wood accents, and the piano player's solar-powered hands. Portraits of San Diegans dot the interior walls to showcase the work of artist John Wismont, who held the Guinness Book of World Record’s title of “Most Prolific Portrait Painter” for nine years.
Argentine restaurant Puerto La Boca is named for the colorful La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires, an area originally settled by Italian immigrants. So the restaurant fits naturally into San Diego's Little Italy, even if the focus is on Argentine-style grilled meats. Tasteful wood-framed art and Argentine photos, as well as tall wood wine racks showcasing the collection of wines from Mendoza, accent the dining room tables set with beige linens. There's also a bar with live music on Fridays as well as sidewalk seating beneath the blue awning at the restaurant's entrance. The beefy grill menu includes succulent Argentine cuts including the asado de tira (Argentinean short rib), picaÌ±a (culotte steak) and lomo (filet mignon). Halibut "Mar del Plata" in a Roquefort cream sauce with mashed pumpkin is also a signature dish. Those seeking a taste of the restaurant's Italian heritage will appreciate the selection of pastas and pizzas.
For carnivores, nothing tops Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses’ USDA Prime steak cooked at 800 degrees and then served on a sizzling 500 degree plate with brown butter. In 1965, Ruth Fertel purchased Chris Steak House to put her kids through college and over 40 years later, the brand has reached incredible success with restaurants across the globe. Del Mar’s Ruth’s Chris offers up stellar steaks and service with impressive consistency. Customers can try the sizzling blue crabcakes or seared ahi tuna to start, then order up the steak of their dreams, from filet mignon and porterhouses to the gargantuan cowboy ribeye with perfect marbling. Side options include potatoes au gratin and creamed spinach. Beyond great steaks, there’s barbecued shrimp sautéed New Orleans-style, juicy lamb chops and fresh Maine lobster. Customers who still have room for dessert can try the caramelized banana cream pie or bread pudding in whisky sauce.
Step back in time to the 1950s and meet friends for a special dinner at Lou & Mickey’s. Designed as a post-World War II supper club, the dining room features green, leather upholstery insets on the walls, dark wood archways and an opulent tile floor, imported from Italy. Time has a way of standing still at Lou & Mickey’s, where the attached cocktail lounge sports a solid, zinc bar – rare for its temperature controlling properties– that is never too cold or too hot, a comfortable feature for the Convention Center neighborhood where days can turn from a chilly, marine layer to blazing sunshine in a few short hours. The menu honors that mid-American past with contemporary updates to its steakhouse and seafood specialties, without losing sight of the heritage that has kept it going. A large patio waits outside but hardly competes with the elegant dining room.